Managing Remote Teams

The virtual workplace is now commonplace due to technology such as Skype and free conference calls, which allow employers to provide workers with a flexible schedule where they don’t all have to be under the same roof. With these advances in modern technology this has seen the rising trend of employees and teams working far more remotely. In addition to this more people are working flexibly for better work life balance purposes.

But as a leader of dispersed workers, how do you make sure that you’re getting the best out of everyone? These simple lessons are key in building the right foundations to managing remote teams successfully.

Remote working isn’t for everyone

Not everybody can work in a remote environment – it requires certain traits and skills – and so it’s important to employ people into such roles who are capable. They need to be highly motivated, self-starters, who require little support. So be mindful of this during the recruitment process and look out for any previous experience of it, which will demonstrate that they can already work in such a way.

Hire the right personalities

Hiring staff, (who will be reporting to you and working remotely), that you can trust is key; i.e. you shouldn’t continually find yourself worrying what someone is doing. Being able to trust the individual to complete work and projects forms the basis of good working relationships.

Be prepared

Preparing a daily or weekly written plan outlining what is expected of each person on the remote team is also helpful and keeps all employees up-to-date. This way, everyone can keep track of his or her assignments. If employees are working from different locations, use a project management or IT system to keep everyone in touch. Tools like Trello can be great for collaborative sharing within projects.

Find ways of bridging the communication gap

Remote working or working from home is far less social than being office based, because you miss out on the coffee catch-ups and lunch meetings. Informal face-to-face contact offers friendships, and networks are formed this way. Not sitting directly within a team environment can lead to people feeling more isolated and out-of-the-loop. Use webcams where possible – it’s always better to see facial expressions and over time this will help form a stronger working relationship.

It is therefore important to keep remote workers included in everything as much as possible. Leaders should ensure that they have regular catch-ups scheduled into the diary with remote workers both via the telephone and face-to-face as well as ensuring that appraisals and training is supported. Always being available to such staff members is also critical.

Good communications between both parties are vital, because you need to rely on each other to pick up the phone when issues arise. In addition to formal communication remember the informal. Using a social tool such as Yammer for team communications can be really effective.

Timezone challenges

Key concerns in managing remote teams can relate to timezone differences, but this can also work to the individuals and teams advantage, especially if they are juggling family and work. Ensure you vary the times of meetings and catch-ups so that everyone in the team gets their most convenient time slot over time. Be aware of unsociable hours and the impact this may have, and be mindful that what you may class as an unsociable hour may not be the same for your team! Find this out right at the beginning of working with them to ensure no assumptions are made.

When managed well, remote working is highly effective and demonstrates a forward-thinking employer. For an employee working remotely, the virtual work life offers the ability to work flexible hours and successfully manage his or her professional and family life.

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